It’s not always easy being a GM. You’ve a game to prepare, a world to create and in addition to plot, combat and other in-world intrigue you also have the real world to deal with when it comes to players, scheduling and even finding a venue.
Wizards of the Coast’s latest book in the D&D range, the Dungeon Master’s Guide begins with some helpful advice to new DMs. It urges “Know Your Players”.
Inspired by that advice I took the question; “What are three common mistakes new GMs make?” to Reddit and the Roleplaying Games community on Google+. The post started off with three suggestions and the community was asked to add others.
What would you add?
- Not wrapping player feedback back into the game. This includes not getting player feedback in the first place.
- Under preparing for the game. You can wing a lot of a game but you can’t wing all of the game all of the time – especially if you’re new in the GM’s hot seat.
- Over preparing for the game Roleplaying is supposed to be fun. Don’t let being GM eat up all of your time. Besides; no encounter plan survives meeting the PCs
Here’s what the community added;
- Approaching the game like you’re the player’s adversary instead of collaborator, like it should be.
- Devoting rolls to things that should just be narrated as a part of the story.
- Narrating failures in a boring way. The most common is “nothing happens”.
- Not giving enough information. Players need information to make meaningful decisions.
- Going into the game with a preconceived story, rather than a situation for the players to explore.
- Not getting a setting/feel of a game down before you start. This to me is where of the “always say yes” goes downhill, a crazy cat lady (while fun) is not going to fit in a level 20 fantasy game. Just pocket the character for later.
- Focusing too much on themselves. Not in terms of of “I’m the GM, look at me”, but storyline progress, and characters. Think of GMing as hosting, put other people first.
- Getting lost in pointless details. Yes that history of the world is nice, but if a player doesn’t care (and isn’t relevant to plot), it doesn’t matter. Unless it’s incredibly plot relevant, slipping up and having a NPC know X, doesn’t matter.
- Allowing nothing to happen when a roll fails. Instead, fail forward. Every failure should result in an interesting complication, not “nothing happens.” If you can’t think of an interesting complication for failure, don’t let the roll the dice, just let it happen. If failure would be boring, don’t let them fail.
- Making players roll the same thing, like stealth or perception, over and over till they fail. Instead, let it ride. Player rolls a good stealth check? Let them keep that score for the rest of the scene, unless something changes dramatically. Rerolling the same thing over and over is boring and feels unfair.
- Making up a scenario without player input and then running them through it. Instead, ask players what kind of game that they want to play, and what their characters’ personal goals are. Make the game about that. Players should be pursuing the goals that they find interesting, and you should reward that.
- Let the players (the rest of the sentence could be “let the players win” “let the players fail” “let the players try” “let the players be heroes/villains/talk show hosts/whatever”) but dammit, let the players.
- Caring more about the rules than the story and the flow of the game. Come on: as long as everybody had a great time, it doesn’t really matter if you made every roll correctly.
- Trying to tell your story instead of help players tell the stories of their characters. Assuming you know what your players will do or, even worse, forcing them to do what your plot demands. Why not just write a novel and read it aloud?
- Believing that you can “win” a role-playing game. Or even that it’s DM against players competition. That’s a sure way to make everybody lose.
- Seems like the easiest way to spot mistakes you are making as a GM—new or old—is whenever you find yourself asking “How can I get my players to…”
Do you agree with everything here? A question to consider is – should the GM guide a plot and have a strong story? Or does the story come from the collaboration between the GM and players?
Image credit: Victor Maury. Buy his prints here.
You could also not play the game as a “story” at all. Instead, you can role-play the world/environment as the GM, in much the same manner as a player role-plays a character, and just get to see the whole evolves from the interactions of the PCs with the world. In this type of game, the scenario you create is the starting point or situation, there are different things going on in the world, some that will register on the PCs radar immediately, others that might register later under different circumstances, and events unfold with the world, which themselves create new… Read more »
Point 1 and 15 are conflicting opinions. Point 3 and point 9 are the same idea. Point 8 is a continuation of point 4. Helpful none the less..
This is a really good list of things to think about when GMing. It can certainly be daunting to run a group but I think #1 is the most important. It also should be made clear to the players that this is the case. Depending on what you are playing and who you are playing with you have to weigh the importance of some of these. We’ve found that different systems burden the GM in different ways. We play https://fyxtrpg.com/ and it has really opened up all players to GMing. It is much easier than other games to GM which is… Read more »
@MrOpinion I think #1 is saying that approaching the game as the player’s adversary is the mistake… and that approaching it as the collaborator is the way it should be.
Jendi77 Yes, that’s my understanding too. This was a compilation piece so perhaps not all the suggestions are entirely in sync but I think #1 and #15 are similar.
BenoistPoire An game must have a story, or else what’s the point? The idea behind the “sandbox” game is that there is no direction and the players can do whatever they want – so why would you even need a GM at all? You can just sit around and talk about the places you might visit and the things you might do.
The point BrianPerez is to adventure in a land of make-believe. Just like in real life you don’t have a “story” being pushed on you from some outside source extraneous to the physical world we live in, the sandbox let’s you explore the fantasy world your character lives in, take on the opportunities he or she sees fit, however you want as a player. The idea that a sandbox is “aimless” is a canard that has no root in the reality of the game tables. What you have is a world that moves and breathes around the players’ characters, places renowned for… Read more »
A good note to new GM’s creating a dungeon : think about how the local denizens go in about about the place, not just the cool traps you want to use on them. If there are local creatures in the dungeon, how do they bypass these traps? (Obviously if the locals are incorporeal, this is somewhat easier)
To quote a seminar from Dragoncon a few years ago: “Do you trap the bathroom toilet?”
Be willing to let the players miss the shiny adventure they walked on past. In the next town over, they can always hear the tales told by someone else who found it. (And that’s your opportunity to build further adventures in the same place that follow from the original adventure.)
Or… if the players set off in an unexpected direction, you can always relocate the Dread Crypt of the Undead Vorpal Bunnies without telling anyone. It’s your world, and the map isn’t carved in stone.
Being a DM Adversary works in a perfect world where the players aren’t spiteful and the Dungeon Master isn’t drunk with power. Play as the omnipotent umpire. If the players are your enemy… You’ve already won and are just playing a game with them.